Using the Overhead Squat Assessment to Identify Reductions in Punching Quality

The overhead squat assessment promoted by NASM (Clark & Lucett, 2011) provides a useful evaluation of the functional status of the latissimus dorsi during a common movement (video example here). The OHS requires that both trunk extension and shoulder flexion occur simultaneously, either or both of which may be altered if the muscle has become chronically shortened and tight. When the lats are hypertonic, shoulder range or motion (ROM) is altered due to excessive internal rotation and depression of the humerus, which further affects the actions of the scapula. This can be seen when an individual’s arms habitually fall forward past the line of the torso during the eccentric phase of the squat in an OHS evaluation, which is an indication of the arthrokinematic (joint movement) compensations needed to accommodate functional ROM as the muscle attempts to maintain a shorter distance between origin and insertion (for an excellent visual of how this occurs, take a look here).

Rear view of the latissimus dorsi. Note the broad connection to the pelvis, and the insertion on the humerus. An overactive (hypertonic) lat will cause alterations in shoulder and hip function, impairing good technique by reducing strength and mobility, while increasing the chances of an avoidable chronic injury.

A dysfunction at either the shoulders (inability to maintain starting flexion) or the LPHC (excessive arching of the lumbar spine) will be apparent. The degree to which the hypertonicity is distal or proximal may be assessable by the order in which shoulder or LPHC ROM are affected. Hypertonic lats can also indicate problems with internal shoulder rotation and a relative under activity by the external humeral rotators. An athlete or student who cannot squat without his or her arms moving past the plane of the ears exhibits these symptoms, and will likely demonstrate “forward rolled” shoulders.

Although squatting and punching may seem like two unrelated actions, the ROM for either may be affected by hypertonic latissimi. The cross provides a fairly good example for examining how the lat acts as an antagonist and synergist during punching actions. The fundamental actions of the initiation of the punch are shoulder flexion, elbow extension, and scapular protraction, with the degree of flexion possible at the shoulder being a major determinant in both the trajectory and velocity of the punch. The degree of adduction and abduction required are variable, but typically, alignment of the fist with the shoulder is optimal (Dempsey, 1950). If the lats are hypertonic, optimal kinematics for the punch will be difficult to achieve, and chances of chronic glenohumeral or rotator cuff  injury are increased.

The shoulder kinematics of the cross are accompanied by ipsilateral hip extension, knee flexion and plantar flexion, the subjective feeling of which has been described as “sitting down” on the punch. At this point in the kinetic chain, the lumbopelvic hip complex can be affected in the frontal and transverse planes by the status of the latissimi on either side. Shoulder ROM will also be affected via the actions of the lat upon the humerus. A combat athlete or martial artist with hypertonic lats will exhibit excessive lumbar extension and/or inward humeral rotation while punching, and will also demonstrate an inability to maintain shoulder flexion during the OHS (open martial arts seminars can be a virtual buffet of examples of this, with accompanying complaints of shoulder pain/injury). Similarly, preferential use of the trapezius to achieve shoulder elevation (to compensate for the lat’s lack of extensibility), and/or lumbar hyperextension can often be observed during performance of the punch.

Due to the shared role of the latissimus dorsi in punching and in the OHS, the OHS (Clark & Lucett, 2011) is a useful evaluation of the status, or the effects of training upon this muscle. Considering that fighting arts and sports typically involve movements that require concurrent proximal and distal actions of the lats, upper and lower body performance deficits for a variety of skills and techniques may be indicated in OHS assessments.

References:

Clark, M. A., & Lucett, S. C. (2011). Chapter 6 Movement Assessments. NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Dempsey, J. (1950). Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching & Aggressive Defense. New York: Jack Dempsey.

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8 responses to “Using the Overhead Squat Assessment to Identify Reductions in Punching Quality

  1. Nice post. Could you explain a little more how a tight lat would inhibit trunk extension since the lat is not a trunk flexor. The lats are posterior to the axis of rotation…if they are tight would they not pull the individual into extension or inhibit flexion?

    Thanks,

    Greg

  2. Hi Greg,

    My wording was a little clunky there- to better clarify, hypertonic (locked short) lats will make it difficult to perform the OHS without excessive trunk extension and/or shoulder extension, rather than inhibiting trunk extension. On a related note, an ipsilaterally dominant lat can encourage excessive lateral flexion of the trunk during a punch, which can be seen when someone performs a cross type movement (particularly if they are of a school that requires “flat feet” in all things) and the contralateral hip displaces laterally as the head displaces contralaterally. Thanks,

    Randy

  3. Thanks,

    Appreciate the reply.

    Greg

  4. I know this is an old post, but I am experiencing this…and I feel that it may be related to shoulder impingement issues that I have been experiencing over the last few months. I have noticed that through completing the OH squat test, or even during shrug ups, the symptoms of a hypertonic lat are apparent. Do you have any suggestions to remedy this?

    Thanks,

    Steve

  5. Hi Steve,

    The underlying cause of the lat hypertonicity might be inhibited adbominal obliques and medial & lower trapezsius. When the obliques are inhibited, the lats tend to try and take over trunk rotation, and when the medial/lower traps are inhibited, the lats tend to compensate by pulling the glenohumeral joint downward. Dynamic lat stretches before training, followed by internal and external oblique exercises, medial/lower trap exercises, then post-training static stretching for the lats might help you to fix the impairment.

    For the shoulder impingement itself, dynamic stretching of the internal humeral rotators and pectorals, external shoulder rotation exercises, upper trapezius exercises, and scaption exercises followed by static stretching of the internal rotators and levator scapulae can do wonders. If the biceps tendon is inflamed or tender, include some myofascial release with a tennis ball, etc.

  6. thanks so much for the info! I will get to work on it!

  7. Thanks so much for your help. I’ve been tackling the internal/external oblique and that has made a huge difference. Regarding medial/lower traps, do you have any favorites that really help with strengthening and functionality?

    • Steven,

      Wide grip and standard pull ups are hard to beat for medial and lower trapezius. You can work up to these if need be by using resistance bands as an assist, or in a gym that has an assist machine. Assuming the top position of the pull up and then holding for 10-30 seconds, while contracting the lower traps and lats is also useful, as is descending as slowly as possible while contracting these muscles. Another favorite of mine for injury prevention (by maintaining good scapulohumeral rhythm) are wall slides, and “snow angles” with resistance cables. For the latter, lie on the floor with your shoulder blades abducted, and a resistance band or tube anchored to something a few feet away from your head, and your shoulders flexed so that your arms are in line with your head. Depress your scapulae and adduct your arms to your sides at a tempo of 2-3 seconds, hold and contract the mid and lower trapezius isometrically for a few seconds, then return to the the starting position at a slow temp of 2-3 seconds. Good luck,

      R

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